C.I.A. Operatives in the Early Years of the Cold War
Scott Anderson joins us now from the catskills. He is a contributing writer for the New York, Times magazine, and the author of many books. His latest is called the quiet Americans four CIA spies. Of the Cold War tragedy in three acts, Scott Welcome back to the podcast. Thanks much nice to be here. So you are allowed on the podcast to talk about your previous book Lawrence in Arabia which came out in twenty thirteen hand, which of course feels like now centuries ago which makes it clear to our listeners are longtime listeners that this is not your first. Book. Involving spies I'm curious what what's the draw for you but I think Speiser inherently fascinating in not just to an awful lot of people and of thought about what is I think it's the the allure of having a secret life. I think that I think that for an awful lot of people this idea that you have a whole separate identity is really fascinating New People. What I was drawn to in both the Lawrence and with in the quite America's the foresee a officers I follow is that in both cases, this was at a time when individuals out in the field had a tremendous freedom of action. So it wasn't. People sitting behind desks following policy that they're actually out in the field doing crazy stuff. You also have a personal connection to the story right in terms of what your father did for living you talk a little bit about that. Sure. My father was agricultural adviser for the Agency for International Development, which was a branch of the State Department. I grew up in. East. Asia in in Korea and Taiwan as Indonesia. and. So this was the nineteen fifties, nineteen sixties when I came along American government workers abroad often in those sorts of countries often were two hats whatever their official job was my father's job as agriculture adviser but it was also part of this great anti Communist crusade was happening around the world. So the upfront hearts and minds, soft power aspect of my father's work was working on agrarian reform in line with countries like these countries were were the land was was had been controlled infra centuries by all darkies. But the the more hard power in the darker side of what my father was doing was was setting up rural vigilante squads, home guard militias to watch over the local populace and to make sure that they weren't being swayed by the communist in certainly in countries like Taiwan or South Korea. If you were exposed or accused of being a leftist, your life was not going to go. Well, you know I'm now getting a sense of why one of the four characters in your previous book was an agronomist perhaps. That's right. Yeah it's well It's it's an interesting thing because. It just for national development was often used by the CIA as a cover because. Are Out, in the field, they're not, they're not saying, I'm destined to capitol there often out among the local population and probably have a better sense of what's happening. Outside what you one thing I'll say I've noticed over time in different countries. I've been almost invariably the ex Patriot community that knows best what's happening in the country are tend to be the people are out in the field in often the Middle East is the oil guys. They have a sense much more than than people sitting around in the capital. Let's start with frank wizner. The first person you mentioned, and this is not the the first book to be written at least in part about wisner who was he and what made him. So central to the story wizards amazing Turkey was a corporate lawyer who was working at a Wall Street firm when even before World War Two broke out and he quit his law firm to join the navy, he ended up being an operative for the office to teacher services, which is the the wartime intelligence agency of the of the army that they owe asset kind of the precursor to the CIA. That's right. That's right and he ends up being A. Kind of the first American to to to witness. The Soviet takeover of country in Eastern Europe, and this was in Romanian to summer of nineteen forty. Four So full year before the war ended and a wizard was on the ground as a as an oasis operative and just watch the strong arm tactics did really a matter of weeks led the Soviets to take control the country he and he was sending cables back to Washington telling telling them what are so good allies doing he sees the say he has the same experience in eastern Germany at the end of. The war in watching the way the Soviets for taking over, he goes back to his law from for couple of years for the complete unhappy, and then when the CIA starts up in nineteen forty seven, they have this idea that they wanna start a covert operations branch of of the CIA called the Office of Policy Coordination and frank listeners chosen to head that the name was deliberately chosen to be really boring. That's right and in fact, the name itself, the Office of policy coordination was was so top secret that even you can't even say the name out loud for twenty five years. So in that role wizner e created, what what he called the mighty world, which was this vast covert operations umbrella of a operating throughout the world and everything from hard power aspects of it like dropping dropping partisans behind the iron curtain to everything to cultural stuff voice. Of America. Radio Free Europe that was all came out of the Office of Policy Coordination.